I’m delighted to welcome Naomi Frisby to kick off The Books That Built the Blogger with her list of five books that have influenced her reading and her blogging.
Naomi blogs at The Writes of Woman and I love her insightful reviews of books by women writers, her work with championing more diverse reading and her fortnightly feature In The Media, which has a round up of fascinating links to women and women’s literature happening in the media. Here are her choices:
The Busconductor Hines – James Kelman
The Busconductor Hines changed my life. I was 17, studying for my A Levels in a town described by the media as a ‘Northern wasteland’. I read a lot and listened to music and these two things had brought me, via The NME and Select, to the then recently published Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. I taped a Channel 4 documentary on three Scottish writers – Irvine Welsh, Janice Galloway and James Kelman – watching each episode at home in ‘free periods’ when everyone else was out. It was Kelman who interested me the most. The next time I was in the town centre, I took myself to Barnsley Library and searched for his name. They had three books by him, two short story collections and a novel. I took the novel.
The Busconductor Hines taught me that you can write about ordinary people and you can do so in their accent. It was the first time I’d seen someone like me represented on the page. It began a lifelong love affair not only with working class literature but also with the work of Scottish and Irish writers and the places they hail from too.
The Electric Michelangelo – Sarah Hall
When I was at university, I began reading the books shortlisted for The Booker Prize each year. It was a conscious decision to read more contemporary literary fiction and, as I had no other guide as to what or who to read, reading the list seemed as good as any. The Electric Michelangelo was shortlisted in 2004 by which time I was back in the ‘Northern wasteland’ teaching English to secondary school students. This book provided an unusual link between my past, present and future. Past: we used to go to on a family day out to Morecambe in the summer holidays, which is where the first part of the book is set. Present: I was (and still am) obsessed with New York City and its outer boroughs. The second part of the book is set in Coney Island. Future: It would spark an obsession with sideshows and lead to me undertaking a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, the thesis element of which looks at female bodies in circus literature.
Citizen: An American Lyric – Claudia Rankine
At the end of 2014, I saw a tweet from Nikesh Shukla calling on people doing their end of year reading round-ups to look at the number of books by writers of colour they’d read that year. Mine was an appalling 10%. I decided to do something about it, consciously choosing books by women of colour to read and review on my blog. Citizen: An American Lyric was the first. What I didn’t know then was that the year would end with me co-running #diversedecember with Dan Lipscombe, a reaction to an all-white World Book Night list, and that the campaign would make the front cover of The Guardian Review. Reading Citizen was the beginning of a permanent change in my reading habits and it’s taken me to so many excellent books I might otherwise never have read.
The House in Smyrna – Tatiana Salem Levy
Like The Busconductor Hines, The House in Smyrna made me realise what’s possible in literature. It wasn’t the first piece of experimental fiction I read but it was the first that I think I really understood; I could see how its seemingly disparate parts fit together to create a complete picture. It’s also the story of a woman and I think I spent so long reading books by and about men that I hadn’t considered the possibilities when it comes to telling women’s stories. Not long after reading this, I sought out more experimental fiction by and about women and I started writing my own.
Homesick for Another World – Ottessa Moshfegh
Homesick for Another World has only recently been published but it’s on my list because it made me realise just how powerful short story collections can be. Not only does every story in this collection stand-alone but the book, as a whole, creates a picture of current society and finds it hypocritical. It made me take the neglected short story collections (of which there were quite a number) off my shelves and begin to work my way through them. I’ve discovered some real gems so far and am hoping for more as I brush the rest of the dust away.
Many thanks to Naomi for that fantastic list. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read any of these! I did read How Late it Was, How Late by James Kelman and marvelled at his use of language and I read Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh last year and loved it and always welcome a new short story collection!
Have you read any of Naomi’s choices?
Remember, if you’d like to take part in The Books That Built the Blogger, just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!